What Can The Amish Teach Us About Technology?

Amish 2Much of my childhood involved interacting with the Amish. From age 6 to about 13, I spent time playing at one of three Amish neighbors living within a 1/2 mile of my home on a dusty dirt road in SW lower Michigan.

The Amish aren’t perfect. They’ve got family and financial challenges like the rest of us. But there are areas of life they seem to have figured out in a way that the rest of us constantly long for like a cool drink on a hot day. Yet, we act as if these accomplishments are uniquely available only to the Amish.

Simplicity and community stand out most as examples of this truth. While there are probably other reasons for their ability to maintain simple and community-oriented lives, the most obvious – perhaps because of its stark contrast to the surrounding culture – is the Amish approach to technology.

In “Amish Community Not Anti-Technology, Just More Thoughtful,” Jeff Brady explains their approach this way:

“The difference between Amish people and most other Americans is the deliberation that takes place before deciding whether to embrace a new technology. Many Americans assume newer technology is always better, and perhaps even inherently good. ‘The Amish don’t buy that,’ says Donald Kraybill… ‘They’re more cautious – more suspicious – wondering is this going to be helpful or is it going to be detrimental? Is it going to bolster our life together, as a community, or is it going to somehow tear it down?’”

Amish Studies supports Brady’s assessment by saying…

“The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself, but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base.”

If we take an honest look around at our culture, we’ll have to admit that they are right. Technology seems to be doing exactly to our culture what they fear it could do to theirs.

Perhaps you’re wondering if it’s really working for them. Are they Amish truly not only able to keep most technology at bay, utilizing only what benefits their traditions and community, and still thrive and grow? Most of us believe we simply could not survive without our smart phones and laptops, so how could they with even less technology than that?

Not only are they keeping technology at bay and surviving without smart phones and laptops and even – gasp – television, but the Amish actually do have a growing and thriving community. Consider the following statistics provided by Amish Studies and combined with those from Conversant Life.

amish

Certainly, we can’t place all the blame on technology for the large exodus of today’s youth from our churches. However, we also can’t deny that it likely does have an impact, albeit a rather complex and difficult-to-understand one.

Adopting the Amish Approach to Technology

I’m not suggesting anyone become Amish, though I know of someone who did. What I am suggesting involves adapting their proactive approach to technology, which for many likely means no longer absent-mindedly riding technology’s superhighway.

  1. Be deliberate about the technology you choose to use and when you use it.
  2. Don’t assume new technology is always better.
  3. Consider if any given technology helps or hinders your life as a whole.
  4. Ask if a technology will bolster or tear down your relationships.
  5. Make simplicity a priority.

Technology seems virtually impossible to avoid for most people. To a great extent, we actually have little choice about if and how we use it. But as the Amish show us by their lifestyle and thriving church, we don’t have to be slaves to technology. We can choose not to let it define us.

DISCUSSION: What lessons about technology from the Amish can you immediately apply?

Note: I am also guest posting today at Cycleguy’s Spin, telling my “second-chance story” titled Kari’s Second Chance: Learning from Jonah. Stop by if you have a minute, and check out Bill’s other posts too. He shares from a pastor’s heart, and I am always blessed by it!

14 thoughts on “What Can The Amish Teach Us About Technology?

  1. My wife and I lived in the heart of the Amish and Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania for many years. I can remember conducting business with some of the Amish. Great reflection of their values. Their life is not always easy but it is simple, and yet their community a tightly connected through their interdependence and common values. On technology I remember one Amish business man had one phone in his store, but no electricity or phone was in their home. The phone was needed for business but not in their personal life.

    Would it not be interesting to assume the Amish life for an extended period of time. Our technology filter would be different than it is before you tried the Amish lifestyle.
    My recent post Where is Your Confidence Placed?

    • They definitely, as a whole, live their values. They are also very accepting of others (outsiders) but still somehow keep their community from being altered by outside views. It's such an interesting lifestyle that people seem drawn to but unwilling to consider why they're drawn to it. Just spending time with them creates a peaceful feeling that leaves you wanting more. Oh, and the food is yummy too! (probably because it's simple).

      • Shoo Fly Pie, corn relish are just some of the treats I remember so well. And when you make all-natural chocolate chip cookies with 100% pure milk…yum is the word to use.

        Their crops produce more per acre because they use natural manure fertilizer too. Miss the farmer's markets up there too!

        Peaceful is the atmosphere when driving through their communities. Their worship is simple too. No rituals or ceremonies. A real Acts 2 Christian community. Thanks for drawing the memories out of me.

        My recent post Where is Your Confidence Placed?

        • Memories are coming out of me too! We used to find fresh meat and baked goods all the time as payment for use of our telephone. Loved running around barefoot on my neighbor's farm and just enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Whenever we drive them anywhere, they always welcomed us as one of them into their homes while their families visited. Oh, and driving the horse & buggy was a lot of fun too! We still get to drive by Amish homes often on the way to my in-laws, and I'm still amazed at how clean their gardens and yards are most of the time. No desire to BE Amish, but I do have a desire to live some of their principles.

  2. I think you're spot on. We tend to blindly assume newer is better. we crave the newest and the best.
    While some technology does make our lives easier but not all is essential. We must be careful and prayerful before making any decision.

    • Carefully and prayerfully… imagine if that were integrated into ALL of our technology choices! I'm discovering too that even in-between technology is often a better option. For example, I love an e-reader, but I use an older Kindle without a touch screen. I can hold it even on the screen without the pages turning when I don't want them too. It JUST does books and PDFs, so it's a great way to take lots of book with me without having the other potential distractions. That's kind of what the Amish do with technology, and I think it's a helpful approach. Save us LOTS of money in the long run too.

  3. i sometimes wonder what life would be like without the stuff that was supposed to make our lives easier. But have actually clouded it with more stuff. Computers. Phones. Internet. TV. The list goes on. You make a good point here kari (although I do like having a vehicle to drive instead of a buggy). But even that has become more taxing.
    My recent post Kari’sSecondChance

    • There always has been and always will be something to distract us and to make our lives more complicated because it isn't the things that make the complication, it's us. Things help though. Sometimes, I would like to live somewhere I didn't need to have a car or we could only have one for occasional use. I would love to walk or bus everywhere or take a city bus like the setup the have in Vail, CO.

  4. Interesting statistics about how many Amish youth decide to join the church. I would also expect that there is much more social pressure to join the church for Amish youth than there is for youth in regular American culture.

    That being said I do think that Amish can teach us something and that is that ultimately we can survive and even thrive without our technologies. The point is not just pick up a new technology because everyone else has it but rather to make an informed and intentional decision because of how that technology can help us reach our goals and bring glory to God.
    My recent post #28 Wisdom From 262 Years of Motherhood

    • There definitely is a unique social pressure for the Amish youth to join the church. Yet, the Amish adults I've know don't seem unhappy about their lives either. Their approach to technology and the simple life can definitely be something that can help us in our approach too even if we don't take it quite to the extreme that they're used to. You're right… the point is to be informed, deliberate and intentional about your choices and not to follow fads or marketing. When glory to God is our focus, technology can be an amazing tool.

  5. I love this post, Kari. I lived near the Amish in Indiana and visited their communities a couple of times. I'm amazed and look up to the way they live. Like many, I struggle with balance and moderation. I'm a minimalist at heart, but this writing gig has increased my online time a lot. I've been cutting back and will cut back even more this summer. In the past, before I blogged, I've even let my Internet go for months at a time. Hmmm, maybe I'll try that again as I'm thinking about changing providers. I could even blog about it (60 Days Without Internet?) You might have just given me an idea. Thanks, Kari.
    My recent post sometimes divorce is best for everybody

    • 60 days without internet would be an interesting experiment indeed, Dan. Glad this post sparked something in you! This series has for sure for me. I'm discovering that technology is interfering with writing, if that makes sense. It's also impacting my simplicity, which makes me feel very unbalanced. For me, I want to go back to a minimalist approach to technology. I want to simplify what I have to think about, so maybe my thoughts can return to the free flow that they were. I'm experiencing some frustrating unbalance, and so much seems so pointless right now. I said all that to say that I get where you're coming from for sure.

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